Speed­ing to­ward the Jet­son era

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CRYS­TAL HILL

Cruis­ing to work in a le­vi­tat­ing pod 20 feet above city streets might sound like some­thing out of “The Jet­sons,” but a Cal­i­for­nia com­pany is build­ing the tech­nol­ogy right now in Tel Aviv and thinks it could solve trans­porta­tion prob­lems in ma­jor cities world­wide.

SkyTran Inc. has formed an un­likely part­ner­ship with de­fense gi­ant Is­rael Aero­space In­dus­tries Ltd. to build a pro­to­type of the next-gen­er­a­tion mass-tran­sit sys­tem at the Is­raeli com­pany’s head­quar­ters. Tel Aviv has com­mit­ted to in­stalling a 2.7-mile down­town commercial line that could be com­pleted as soon as 2016 at a cost of about $50 mil­lion if the project suc­ceeds.

“Our vi­sion is to change the way people live and travel,” SkyTran CEO Jerry San­ders said.

SkyTran uses mag­netic lev­i­ta­tion tech­nol­ogy to trans­port light­weight, egg-shaped cars hov­er­ing un­der­neath a rail con­structed above city streets. A com­muter would be able to sum­mon a pod by smart­phone to plat­forms at the tops of stair­cases roughly ev­ery quar­ter-mile along the line.

A con­nected side track would al­low cars to di­vert from the main rail line, pick up pas­sen­gers at plat­forms and then re-en­ter the flow of traf­fic.

The cars are de­signed to hold two people and travel up to 150 miles an hour, but the aver­age speed of the line planned for Tel Aviv is ex­pected to be about 43 miles per hour. The SkyTran ve­hi­cles will rely on a “neu­ral net­work soft­ware sys­tem” that will con­trol the flow of traf­fic and in­di­cate which ar­eas need higher con­cen­tra­tions of cars to sat­isfy de­mand.

The tran­sit sys­tem, which is touted by its builder as fast, safe, green and eco­nom­i­cal, will carry up to 12,000 people along a 125mile line. Each ride will cost about $5.

“We don’t ex­pect to take over the masstrans­porta­tion sys­tem,” Mr. San­ders said. “But as SkyTran grows and people see its ben­e­fits, we think more and more people will stop driv­ing cars and tak­ing trains and will start tak­ing SkyTran, and I think we will de­crease the num­ber of cars on the road.”

The project has been un­der­way for al­most a decade at SkyTran’s head­quar­ters at the NASA Ames Re­search Cen­ter near Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia. It is part of a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship by which NASA of­fers com­pa­nies ac­cess to its ex­per­tise and tech­nol­ogy. In this case, de­sign­ers were look­ing to “rev­o­lu­tion­ize pub­lic trans­porta­tion.”

“Ev­ery­one knows that the [pub­lic trans­porta­tion] sys­tem doesn’t work,” Mr. San­ders said. “The high­ways we have can no longer ac­com­mo­date the num­ber of cars on the road.”

Mr. San­ders said he en­vi­sioned a so­lu­tion that would op­er­ate above the roads in­stead of be­low them like sub­way sys­tems, which he said are too costly and time-con­sum­ing to build. The com­pany points to how quickly and cheaply its lines can be con­structed be­cause as­sem­bly re­quires a hand­ful of ba­sic parts and lit­tle main­te­nance.

SkyTran last month an­nounced its part­ner­ship with Is­rael Aero­space In­dus­tries — a de­fense com­pany that is bet­ter known for pro­duc­ing drones and mis­siles. The pro­to­type be­ing built at the com­pany’s head­quar­ters will con­sist of a 500-yard loop that will al­low de­sign­ers to test and re­fine their sys­tem.

SkyTran ini­tially planned to im­ple­ment its first com­muter line in Moun­tain View but could not get the lo­cal and govern­ment sup­port it needed, Mr. San­ders said.

“We got the green light from the mayor of Tel Aviv and have been get­ting wall-to-wall sup­port from all the govern­ment in­dus­tries, and that made it at­trac­tive to build here,” Mr. San­ders said. “It’s truly a very tech­nofriendly city.”

Pend­ing the suc­cess of the SkyTran sys­tem in Tel Aviv, SkyTran plans to start build­ing the tech­nol­ogy in other places. The com­pany says it is mak­ing pre­lim­i­nary plans for routes in France, In­dia and the San Fran­cisco area.

“With the ap­proval from the mayor, It was nat­u­ral for us to start here, but we hope to build a sys­tem in Cal­i­for­nia and go from there,” Mr. San­ders said.

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